Why an A-Frame House is a Popular First Build

More than just iconic architecture, discover why so many people have chosen to build A-Frame homes and cabins.

The Modern-Day A-Frame House

In 1961, at the height of the postwar “A-frame as-a-representation-of-leisure” era, Time magazine wrote that “the A-frame is not a new idea: the first man who leaned two poles together and threw a skin over them had a rudimentary version of it.”

In truth, this statement could be taken at face value to mean the A-frame is one of the oldest traditional representations of a building or home. But, at a very specific moment in time, this seemingly rudimentary solution for an overhead roof transformed into something modern and glamorous.

That moment was the postwar vacation housing boom in America.

After the second world war, Americans found themselves with more disposable income and with that, spending money for the sake of pleasure. That concept eventually extended beyond fancy clothing, household appliances, or cars towards vacation homes which became the gold-standard for modern-day Americans living life to the fullest.

Enter, the A-frame vacation home. This made way for the design minded’s future vision of this architectural design as an icon of leisure and enjoyment. Along with the A-frame state of mind, came an early wave of kit home products targeted towards weekenders and DIYers similar to the resurgence of kit homes we’re seeing today.

Today, the versatility of an A-frame extends beyond just a ski-chalet or marketing gimmick. Architects, builders, and back-to-nature-seekers are increasingly turning to the design as a beautiful solution for a modern-day dwelling.

As we combine our idealistic vision for both getting “back to the basics” and also enjoying the freedoms of recreational time spent in nature, the A-frame moves towards a newer still version of this timeless build.

Here we’ll explain in detail why so many choose to build an A-frame, and why you might consider it too. Consider the following high-level ideas, and dig deeper into the detailed concepts below for more.

Why you should build an A-frame house:

In addition to filling in the blanks on all the benefits to building an A-frame cabin or house, we’ll also go into detail on how to select your most ideal A-frame kit or building plans, and where to get inspiration for starting your build.

Why Build an A-Frame Cabin

So why are A-frame cabins and homes so popular for first-time builders?

Because the same basic draw that allowed for two poles to lean together and form a roof is still relevant to the ease of getting a modern A-frame build off the ground today. Plus, A-frames are extremely adaptable, and they offer a closeness to nature and a simplistic style that isn’t easily matched by other construction types.

Ideal For All Types of Weather

The construction of an A-frame makes it an ideal structure for all types of weather. In warmer climates, the main living space on the ground level stays cool as the hotter air rises to the peak of the building. In cooler climates with heavy snowfall, the deeply sloped A-shaped design allows snow to easily slide off the building which avoids build up and snow load on your roof.

Iconic Architecture

There’s something to be said about the visual effects an A-frame has on our minds, with an instant association to relaxation and something “different” than what we’re used to.

It should come as no surprise that an A-frame design can keep your occupancy rates high on a short term rental property, and might gain instant interest should you choose to list your A-frame home for sale.

To shed more light on this, popular Instagram accounts that showcase cabins and outdoor lifestyles often see up to 10 times interest when posting photos of A-frames as opposed to other styles of cabins or homes.

Similarly, A-frames on Airbnb are often times fully booked entire seasons in advance, like this place in our own cozy neighborhood of The Catskills and the luxury real estate section of the New York Times loves a nice A-frame feature to highlight.

Affordable Options

A-frames are often times cited as being an affordable option for tiny house builds, as highlighted here by our friends at Field Mag. With an entry point under $15,000 to build A-frame construction can get you to a livable dwelling with money left over for landscaping, decorating, or adventuring.

On the flip side, there’s no shortage of extravagantly designed A-frames, so you can imagine the range of options in between those two extremes.

Easier to Build

Due to the characteristic shape of an A-frame, the structure is simply the same shape framed over and over again to the full length of the cabin or house. Often times referred to as an extrusion structure, this repetitive framing process allows for a faster build time and the ability to learn and perfect as you go.

When framing your A-frame, if you’re going the DIY route, you’ll develop muscle memory while you work in that the 3rd triangular component of the A-frame will go much faster than the first. This makes construction significantly easier for a first-time builder when you have to tackle a smaller set of skills in order to complete your build.

Clean Design

The clean design of an A-frame is universal in its appeal. With a well-designed building plan, oftentimes you’ll walk into an open living space with lofted high ceilings culminating in a dramatically tall apex and natural light flooding in by utilizing entire wall sections as windows and doors.

When properly designed for structural integrity and ideal insulation of your roof, skylights are easily installed to offer even more access to natural light in your space. A note of caution, though, don’t be fooled by A-frame designs stuffed full of too many skylights that can lead to potential points of failure in the roofing system.

Adaptable

With a large and central space, A-frames are highly adaptable in terms of how you use the space. You aren’t only limited to a bunk room or sleeping quarters, rather these dwellings can be perfect for yoga studios, office space, and even recreational spaces like climbing walls.

Building Plans and Kits

Perhaps one of the largest appeals for less experienced builders is the ease of accessing a number of options in terms of building plans or kits to get started on their next project.

It’s true that a simple online search returns millions of results when looking for A-frame building plans and kits, but that also means you need to use precautions when selecting the best option for your build. More on that below.

Easily Modified

While some might see the sloping roof walls of an A-frame as a drawback in terms of designing the living space, there are easy solutions that can fix this, if it’s not ideal for you.

A dormer is a window or space that projects vertically from a sloping roof, making it an ideal add on or modification to an A-frame design.

Adding strategically placed dormers to an A-frame doesn’t detract from the iconic architecture and silhouette of the building, and can add a substantial amount of living space to an otherwise tiny home.

Not All A-Frames Are Created Equal

We noted above the abundance of options available when considering purchasing or building an A-frame house. Yet, it’s important to know that not all A-frames are designed with the integrity of engineering and design required for a long-lasting and timeless structure.

Some commonly referenced downfalls of a poorly designed A-frame include energy leakage without proper insulation, wonky interior layouts that don’t make good use of the space, and dated designs that go too far in the direction of nostalgia.

For the latter, stepping into an A-frame can sometimes feel like “stepping back in time” with the overly stylized aesthetic reminiscent of previously mentioned postwar vacation homes of the ’50s and ’60s. At Den, we’re not so into that. Honestly, we find most of our customers (and not to mention today’s real estate market) aren’t either.

So this begs the question, how should you go about finding your most ideal building plans or A-frame kit in a sometimes oversaturated online market?

Choosing the Best A-Frame Building Plans or Kit

Perhaps first and foremost, make some inquiries within the community. Companies that boast “easy DIY A-frame kits,” in theory, should be well respected within the DIY or building communities. Even younger companies that are just getting started should be able to point you in the direction of at least one or two happy customers that have had good outcomes with their offerings. If you’re just not finding that, it could be a red flag.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options of architects or design companies that offer plans or kits that pass the community test, think about logistics of who is going to build your A-frame and what your budget is.

There is a misconception that buying a kit means you’ll have materials arrive at your plot of land, and be able to DIY your project easily.

However, that’s just not the case. A better way to think about kit home projects is to consider something similar that you’ve taken on in the past. Have you ever put together a dresser from Ikea? Even with a fairly clear instruction manual and some building experience, this can take hours and become somewhat frustrating. Now, imagine that dresser being 1000 square feet in size.

Will you readily know what your kit building guide is referencing when they talk about the sill plate? Or how about mullion-ing your windows together? Thinking in these terms makes it easier to see that if this is your first rodeo, you might still need a builder to put your kit together.

When considering the best house plans or kits for any home, A-frames are no exception with what criteria those engineering assets should need to include.

You’ll need to think about size, style, quality of the delivered assets, building codes, approvals, and cost among other things.

Often times building plans might be the better route for a builder of any experience level because those allow for flexibility and personalization that kits will not. Kits are also marketed towards inexperienced builders with claims that they are easy to DIY, but the reality is often the opposite.

Kits can be incredibly complex in their design, and the last thing a DIY builder wants is to have to budget for an expensive building team to come in and save the build after they hit a few too many roadblocks.

On the other hand, you might think handing over a complete kit to a building team might get you to your desired outcome faster. Think again. Kits can overcomplicate a building team’s internal process by requiring a different approach than they would normally take.

Further, the wait time to receiving your kit is completely dependent on the company you purchased from and waitlists and times are not usually disclaimed before you hit that “purchase” button. With a building plan, you get access to what you need to start building immediately.

In any case, A-frame building plans might seem less complete than a kit but in reality, can streamline your project much more efficiently even for a first time DIY builder.

Timeless A-Frames

There’s a reason why A-frame architecture continues to grace the covers of high design publications, travel sites, and your own Pinterest construction boards.

The same sentiments that resonated so strongly with postwar era Americans looking to find an outlet for relaxation and leisure still persist today. In fact, in today’s era of constant work, an overuse of technology, and many of us residing in busy city centers it seems more important than ever to have a way to get back to nature and reconnect with yourself and the land.

This could explain, partially, the building and nature seeking communities’ new found reconnection to A-frame architecture and what this style of building can represent to us. There’s something to be said for the intrigue and refreshing quality that an A-frame evokes when we drive by or approach one on foot.

That intrigue and freshness is also what our minds feel when we explore a sun speckled forest, or when we reach the peak of a mountain. Accessing those senses through architecture is another way for makers and creators like us to feel more connected and grounded.

Due to popular demand, our own A-frame plans are now available for purchase and offer the best (not biased at all) option for the design-minded outdoor lifestyle. Den A-frame plans are designed with builders of all experience levels in mind, with our smallest A-frame (not quite on the market yet) going up in just one day of building.

From Fischer Price to Rudolph Schindler, the most iconic A-frame designs inspired today’s modern interpretation of the classic styling. The universally pleasing style and timeless design of a well thought out A-frame never go out of style.